Posts tagged meditation
Cake and a Scavenger Hunt... round two at Madhyamaka Meditation Centre

I am writing this on the evening of my final day of my second stay at Madhyamaka Buddhist Meditation Centre (here is the story of my first and in re-reading it again I feel exactly the same this time around). Once again it was a wonderful week of reflection, stillness and mindful duties.

I decided to take time out over my birthday... this is becoming something of a tradition for me! Last year I spent the entire month of May with the Merkaba Community living of grid in the mountains of Portugal, and the year before I took my first ever solo trip abroad to Lanzarote- which then led to my retreats! 

This past week I have painted railings, scrubbed paving stones, weeded the garden, worked in the shop, cleared the sawdust from a newly built kitchen, carried rubbish across the site...

I also made an epic chocolate cake and designed a fun scavenger hunt!

The chocolate and raspberry brownie cake I made this afternoon was something of a leaving gift to the other residents and volunteers. I wasn't initially going to provide the full recipe here as it wasn't particularly heathy (plenty of sugar and wheat flour and vegetable oil as that is all I had available) and the main focus on this occasion was that is was vegan since there were a few vegan volunteers and no vegan sweets other than fruit.

However, it was a totally delicious cake and so I have provided notes of ways to make it healthier if you were so inclined. I'd definitely make it again using those tweaks. The recipe is featured at the bottom of this post (apologies for awful photos that do not do the cake justice- we were too eager to scoff it- I had kept them waiting all day since I announced it at breakfast time after all!)

I still managed to hide some veg in it and nope, no one guessed the secret ingredient, ha ha ;-)

We did have one other vegan cake during my week here. It was a yummy banana cake that was baked as a belated birthday treat for me by one of the residents here- a guy called Jonathan. I was so excited by and grateful for his kind gesture. ;-)

My birthday cake from Jonathan!

My birthday cake from Jonathan!

My chocolate cake gift (and some of the crew!)

My chocolate cake gift (and some of the crew!)

My favourite 'job' was to design a scavenger hunt for the members of the public when they visit. I made two versions- inside and outside. 

What I loved most about putting it together was the way to forced me to 'see' the world anew as I took photos of items throughout the site. I explored my surroundings through entirely new eyes, looking for the details so easily overlooked. 

For the first time I truly saw the patterns, the textures, the side and rear views, the colours and shapes out of the context of 'general magnificence'. I looked above me and below me to frame a view rarely seen but now given a space for appreciation evermore. I'd never noticed before the carved underside of the huge stone entrance canopy but it was absolutely beautiful and now everytime I walk through the main entrance doors I glance up and smile inside.

When you focus in on the details you see them in their true beauty. Without context you loose sense of expectation and your brain can not 'fill in the gaps' it otherwise would do. 

I remember when I was an art student in my late teens, on every trip I went I'd take my sketch book and pencils. One holiday with my boyfriend at the time, i'd woken up long before he had and after a while not wanting to wake him, I started to draw him. From the angle I was sat his head was upside to me... and so I literally drew the shapes I saw in front of me and not the human features my brain told me were there. It was a quick ten minute sketch as he woke shortly after I began, but to this day I still think it is one of the best drawings I have ever created.

@@I wonder what might be created if you quite literally viewed your world from a new perspective?@@ 

A few other mementos I am bringing home with me... more fallen branches to make new dreamcatcher wall hangings, and lots of wild garlic growing in abundance in the woodland garden. Hopefully a recipe using that to come soon!

 

Recipe: Chocolate and Raspberry Brownie Cake

Note: all quantities are approximate since I had no measuring implements and worked on the basis of visual quantities and intuition. :-) If the final mixed  batter is nice and thick and drops loosely from a spoon you've got it right (if not add a little extra milk or flour).

Makes a large cake pan approx 8x15inch (halve the recipe for a regular cake pan)

Ingredients:

  • 2 cups non-dairy milk
  • 1 large banana
  • 2/3 cup veg oil*
  • 1/3 cup raspberry jam*
  • 1 fist sized sweet potato 
  • 3 cups plain flour*
  • 1 cup cocoa
  • 2/3 cup granulated sugar*
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 100g bar dark chocolate (mine had freeze dried raspberries in it too) (this is optional)

Method:

Finely grate the peeled sweet potato, mash the banana well and mix together in a medium bowl. Add the milk and veg oil and mix all together well. 

In a separate large bowl, mix together all remaining dry ingredients other than the chocolate if using. Add the wet ingredients to the dry and mix well until you have a smooth thick batter. 

Pour into a large lined baking tin and press broken up chunks of the dark chocolate and a little extra jam if you fancy into the top.

Bake for approx. 30-35 mins at 180C (I loosely covered the top with tinfoil for the last 10 mins to prevent excess browning). A toothpick should come out clean.

Allow to cool slightly and serve hot or cool fully and serve cold. I made a hot banana custard alongside.

*HEALTHY NOTES: you could swap the veg oil for melted coconut oil, swap the jam for a refined sugar free version or use fresh/frozen raspberry chunks. You could use wholemeal spelt flour or ground oat flour (oat flour may not rise quite so much), you could use unrefined coconut sugar. You could use 100% cocoa chunks or omit the chocolate entirely.

 

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Yoga Connects!

After 36 hours of digital detox with my phone turned off...

15+ hours of yoga practice 

15 hours of volunteering 

A gong bath

Inspiring talks 

A an epic soul revival dance party 

And a yoga rave

...I return home with a weekend of experiences with some of the most passionate and compassionate people this world has to offer.

I had the privilege of working at the incredible Yoga Connects Festival. Spending time in the company and teaching of some of the yoga greats such as Celeste Periera and Dylan Werner, yet also had the grounding reminder that yoga is not about perfection of the skills to perform gravity defying hand balances.... but an ever evolving inner practice of tuning in your true nature. Of loving yourself in this moment.

Practicing yoga in a group space holds an incredible energy. It intensifies, magnifies and reflects our individual energy. I felt this when I was one of a handful in the sunshine on the bus deck at Merkaba, and I felt this again when I was one of many- sometimes 100+ at the yoga classes this weekend.

I also attended a gong bath, I would have loved to have attended more to go even deeper, but there was so much else I wanted to experience and so it was not to be.  This going bath was a particularly reflective experience for me. I had just finished an intense early morning shift of volunteering at the registration desk and my shift also over ran a little meaning I rushed to where the gong bath was being held, tiptoeing my way through the room to find a small space in a sea of yoga mats already filling the room.

I settled down as the teacher began with slow soft words to lead into the session. My mind was full and it wouldn't give up easy! I had a feeling I'd find it hard to get out of my head and into my heart space and relax but this then gave rise to an altogether different experience. With the sounds of the gong in the background creating ripples and crescendoes of sound reverberating around the room, my mind filled with thoughts, questions and scenarios... Random scatterings of thoughts that each powerfully caught my attention for a few moments... But almost as soon as I got caught up in them, I realised I was doing so and simply let them go.

I just let them drift off.

I told myself if it was important then it would come back to me later when I could do something about it, but that right now there was nothing I could do to help those thoughts and there was little point in them hanging around. It worked like magic. Throughout the 1.5 hour gong bath, my mind filled constantly but also gave me endless practice in letting go... again and again and again.

At the end of the session as I wiggled my fingers and toes, opened my eyes and slowly sat up as the leader brought the session to a close, I realised I remembered not a single thought that had crossed my mind so powerfully just a few moments before.

The epic teachers whose classes I attended... including (top right anti-clockwise) Jake & Chetana- acro yoga, Dylan Werner - yoga therapeutics, Luis Valentine- Jivamukti, 47 Soul- awesome musicians, Celeste Periera- Vinyasa flow, Charlotte Welfare- Boom Shanti, Brett Moran- yogi and inspiring speaker.

The epic teachers whose classes I attended... including (top right anti-clockwise) Jake & Chetana- acro yoga, Dylan Werner - yoga therapeutics, Luis Valentine- Jivamukti, 47 Soul- awesome musicians, Celeste Periera- Vinyasa flow, Charlotte Welfare- Boom Shanti, Brett Moran- yogi and inspiring speaker.

Guru is the Sanskrit word for teacher.

Yoga means unity.

We are all own own most powerful teachers when we open our hearts and let the world in to show us the way and allow ourselves to listen to and trust our own inner voice.

When we come together as one energy. Individuals with a common aim, united in physical space, sharing a common bond and a common love. We are one... We are a unity. We are spiritual beings in a physical body.

Hundreds of us sat back to back, bodies pressed together with a partner at the end of the yoga rave at midnight on Saturday, after a full on day of the festival under a huge tent canopy, energy and rhythm still coursing through our souls, coming down from the drug free euphoric high that only love can create. We sat in meditative silence which then closed with my favourite poem..

We are each beacons of light.

This weekend we let out light shine out to the world. I have no doubt it reached beyond the fields of Stanford Hall. I have no doubt it reached beyond the boundaries of the United Kingdom. This weekend we came together from all over the country and the world for one common aim. To share yoga, to share passion, to share learning and ultimately to share deep inner the love that is innate to us all. 

From the book 'Love' by Leo Buscaglia which I have recently been reading, we do not 'fall' in love but we 'grow' in love. It is a constant, consistent practice in much the same way that yoga is also a constant, consistent practice for both body and mind.

This weekend the people of Yoga Connects came together to grow deeper in love.

P.s If you like to join in next year.... keep an eye on their website for 2017 super early bird tickets coming soon!


 

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My time at the Buddhist Meditation Centre

Finally I have written a blog post about my experience... just three weeks later!  

Every time I had sat down to do so I'd be distracted away from distilling my throughs into words. Then I had a story to finish that i'd be invited to contribute to a book which involved me digging deep and re-living a lot of emotions. It is only now I have the energy to focus in what this experience taught me.

So, as you may recall in my last post, that in January my focus for the year was to explore 'experience'. That was the word I gave myself. I wasn't sure how it would manifest at that point but I knew there would likely be some travel involved as I'd already booked a flight for April to see my sister in Thailand and volunteer as a yoga centre.

March rolled around and I felt the urgent need to 'expand'. That is probably the best word I can use to describe it!  I found Madhyamaka Buddhist Mediation centre a few hours drive from me near York that takes on volunteers in return for bed and food. It sounded perfect. So with just a few days notice at the beginning of March, and no idea what to expect, I went to live there for a week.

A little bit of everything captured!

A little bit of everything captured!

It was incredible! It's hard to put into words how it felt. I loved living as part of their community, hearing their personal stories, spiritual debates around the dinner table, going to meditation sessions 2 to 3 times a day in the beautiful ornate meditation rooms. There were a few other UK guests and also volunteers from around Europe whilst I was there and we all hung out together sharing cultures, language, jokes... it was such an enriching experience.

It was also the small things that made a huge impact, like the huge sash windows with the beautiful sunshine streaming through in every room as I worked on my laptop. The beautiful grounds and rolling hills of the countryside. I was so lucky to have such a sunny week, but even it it hadn't been I would have still been amazing to appreciate nature in all it's true glory.

I was working in the reception/shop a lot and designing flyers for them at the same time which was lovely as I was able to use my skills (I also run a design business on the side). All in all, I gained so much from the whole experience and would love to go back again sometime... watch this space! ;-) 

Spontaneous handstands in the fields with a fellow volunteer!

Spontaneous handstands in the fields with a fellow volunteer!

All together...Volunteers and guests on my final evening!

All together...Volunteers and guests on my final evening!

The most interesting thing for me, was that as someone who has always struggled to meditate in the traditional sense of sitting quietly. Doing that in a room full of others (whether it was 5 people or 50) felt so different. Even though my mind was wandering all over the place, it didn't matter so much, I was able to relax into it as I felt as though there was such an intense focussed energy in the room form the others, their 'beingness' infused and supported my own. 

The biggest thing for me at the moment is the realisation that I need to live from the heart not my head. I have spent most of the last 32.5 years getting caught up in my mind and letting my head and it's little inner chatter dictate my life, whereas now in those moments when I'm living from the heart everything just flows. Life is easy and uncomplicated.

I am so much more aware of the dynamic between the head and the heart than ever before and this is what I feel is my duty to explore in myself and enhance in my own life and therefore in time to come support clients exploring the same. Nutrition still forms a huge part of this as I feel nutrition is the gateway to your optimum self in terms of supporting clarity of mind and body.

Whilst I was at the meditation centre, I was privileged to be able to take part in a two hour meditation session as part of the monthly ‘Sunday Out’ program.

In a room packed full of 60+ people, all with open minds and a willingness to explore, the energy of the space was amazing. We were led into a number of guided meditations, but one visualisation in particular stood out for me, and after the session I found a quiet space to record some notes to later remind myself of the teachings. 

It was only this week I found the recording on my phone and listened back to it, it gave me the incentive I needed to put this post together and so I've typed it almost word for word as I had originally recorded it…

Sunday Out Meditation:

He (the monk) talks about clearing our mind and being more in tune with who we really are. He used the analogy of your back garden and your front garden… if you have limited time, which one do you choose to maintain? Often we may choose to maintain our front garden as that’s the one that people see, so we create a show for those who pass by our house to give the impression of a beautiful, proud space. 

But actually we let the back garden go to ruins behind the scenes. If over time this is left uncared for, the roots may grow and undermine the foundation of the house, the ivy may grow up the walls and begin to pull the bricks apart. Yet we keep this show up for the side that people can see our front garden, and hide our back garden away from the rest of the world.  

He likened this to the external side and the internal side of ourselves he asked: Which one is more impotent to you personally, the part that those can see- the tip of the iceberg or the internal side that no-one sees but is super important to our wellbeing. The balance to where we put our energy is imbalanced.

He also mentioned that when we first meet someone we might typically ask their name, where they’re from and what they do. In those three questions we think we have them figured out but actually we hardly know them at all. This is likened to the inner work and the outer work. It is our inner world that we need to put more effort in to, for a rich and fulfilled life.

The 'inner world' fascinates me as this is the realm which has the capacity to be so life changing. We are born with everything we already need in life, but get distracted and overwhelmed but the glamour of our external world and those around us. Everything we need is already inside, we simply need to learn how to better tap into it!  Isn't that incredible?


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Rest is best and harmony heals

Yesterday I went to a meditation workshop held by Sandy Newbigging, the focus was the concepts held within his new book ‘Body Calm’ which struck a chord with me because that’s exactly what I’m working on in my own life right now… Calming my body and optimising my mind-body connection!

I scribbled lots of notes in my notebook as the day went on and so wanted to extract some of the key points here, in part so that I can reflect on them and better utilise them in my own life and work, but also so that you may be able to benefit from his teaching too. The notes below are more like a series of bullet pointed concepts, some ideas to sit with and mull over. Hopefully one or two may help create curiosity and mind shifts for you in your own life.

I had already bought his new book Body Calm as a previous event a few weeks ago, and so for the purpose of this blog post I got a cheesy selfie… yay! :-)

 
 

Our bodies are not against us- they our teachers sending us messages. Once we acknowledge this, it is a hugely power and powerful mindset!

‘Rest is best and harmony heals’. Stress is the result of there being disharmony within your mind body soul and life. Central to Body Calm is the invitation to rest in your conscious awareness.

Body Calm begins with mind calm, and mind calm begins with knowing who you really are. Your ‘Self’. The mind is temporary and constantly changing, if we focus on this we run into problems. Our awareness is the unchanging part. Our Self

Problems come when we are ‘feeling our thinking’, external factors don’t cause a negative feelings. Our own relationship to those feelings does.

Peace is not the absence of emotion- peace can exist with any emotion through our awareness of Self. Here co-existence of peace and emotion is always possible regardless of the emotion we are experiencing. When we are suffering, we have dropped ‘into’ the emotion and have left the state of ‘observing’ the emotion. 

I personally love that point above! The awareness (Self) is only ever in the NOW, all thoughts of past and future can never be present. 

You have the initial reaction then typically you have the ‘dwelling’- it’s the dwelling that causes the stress and the suffering and that’s what we want to reduce. Regardless of the gravity of the emotion itself, when it’s happening in the now it doesn’t cause stress, it simply is ‘happening’. 

GAAW0 = gently alert awareness wide open. This is the fundamental concept of Sandy’s meditation technique to engage the Self, we can do this with eyes open or closed, gazing forwards yet being aware of the greater environment.

Virtues are like ‘iclouds’ above our heads. When we engage in GAAWO, we are aware of the conflict and emotion and so are in a position to be able to download the virtue we need more of e.g feeling frustration offers us the virtue of patience and we need to actively Choose to bring this in (or another virtue need more of in that scenario).

We often live through a series of thoughts, not in the present and not ‘fully and completely’. Fully and completely is Sandy’s definition of life. Life happens on a spectrum of all possibilities. We tend to want to hang out on the positive end of the spectrum, yet that is not living a full human experience, we need to be able to willing and able to live life right across the spectrum.

Stress is not the cause because stress is caused by something- it is not the source. Inner conflict is the cause- that requires two opposing forces, the attachment and the resistance. We get caught in the middle of the push-pull dynamic, we resist what’s happening because we attached to something that we want to be happening instead. Stress is not caused by your circumstances, it is caused by resistance to the circumstances. When we keep focusing on it, it persists.

I AM not my EMOTIONS. I simply HAVE emotions. 

I AM is permanent and unchanging- the Self, yet EMOTIONS are transitory and when we reflect back we can always think of a time in our lives that we haven’t felt that emotion.

Emotions = energy, and we need energy to create and heal. To optimise our life. The more emotions we have the better.

Emotion = energy in motion!

I love this symbol of energy in motion, from the whole workshop this was the concept that spoke to me most profoundly, I often find myself bouncing from the highs to the lows, full of overwhelm and anxiety. Resisting that overwhelming is not embracing and trusting it for it’s power to create and heal and allow me to travel that journey of becoming my highest self. It’s the resistance that hinders this progress, the resistance that creates the struggle and the stress. not the energy itself. Game changer!

We are born with only two fears-falling and loud noises. Everything else is learned, labelled and conditioned. As humans we tend to apply labels to everything. But we could benefit more from understanding what this emotion feels like within our body, how it manifests, that it is a transient messenger… before simply labelling it and putting it aside. 

When you feel an emotion, recognise it and respond as a welcoming sign of growth and healing. “Hello energy, thank you for passing through, feel free to hang out as long as you need to.”

Life is happening to invite us to wake up consciousness- nothing comes along to hurt you but to wake you up and help you grow. Knowing this ultimately means that what your experience is less important than your relationship with it.

With the right attitude, you can use all that happens to you as an invitation to step up, wake up, and fully show up.

 
 

i'd love to hear your thoughts on these concepts, how you feel about your own relationship between your body and mind, and your awareness of the inner 'Self'? If you are super curious… Get in touch and let's arrange some time to chat about it!

 

Curious to work together? Get in touch for a complimentary chat and we'll see where your are at and where you want to go!

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The power in the pause
 
butenko pause.jpg

Previously when I have considered the notion of a 'pause' it's been with reference to taking a step back, putting the brakes on rushing through life or a spot of meditation… However recently I discovered there was a powerful pause each of us makes, multiple times in every minute of every day without even knowing it, and the power it holds is entirely overlooked and under utilised.

We breathe in and we breathe out, we breathe in and we breathe out… This is a continuous process that we don't even have to think about. Our bodies regulate us on autopilot. Yet consciously being aware of our breath and more importantly how we then physically engage with it takes us into a new level.

The next time you breathe out notice what happens in that split second before you breath in, that moment where time seems to stand still, we float within our bodies before refilling our lungs with air. Next time you breathe out, at the end of the breath try extending that passive pause a little and see what it feels like.

This is the power of the pause.

I often enjoy this 'floating' timeless experience during my yoga classes but I had no understanding that spending time in the pause on a regular daily basis could create such huge internal benefits for our body systems. My recent butenko breathing session with Jen Tiller showed me otherwise.

Our bodies need a very precise balance of oxygen and carbon dioxide in the blood stream at all times. That delicate balance is easily upset and over time a process called the BOHR effect changes the PH of the whole system, reducing the rate of oxygen available to the cells. Breathing more actually makes it worse. The body is conditioned to breathe too much all the time as a result of the well-known fight or flight response becoming habitual.

At the core of the Buteyko method is a series of reduced-breathing exercises that focus on nasal-breathing, breath-holding and relaxation.  The ‘control pause’ at the end of the out breath is key to regulating our breathing and the all the potential health benefits this has been shown to be associated with. 

You can find more information about Jen Tiller’s butenko breathing sessions here and some more info about butenko breathing in general and the potential benefits to health and fitness here.

As ever I simply encourage you to get ‘curious’, for me understanding the power of my own body and various ways in which I can optimise my health is a key part of this process.

 

Curious to work together? Get in touch for a complimentary chat and we'll see where your are at and where you want to go!

 Why not sign up for my newsletter in my sidebar where I feature roundups and special offers plus my FREE ebook. If you are new round here you might like to check out my 'About' tab up top. To buy healthy nibbles you can also find me over at my sister site Wholeplus. 

Day to day you can always find me hanging out in these places:

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Walking into meditation
 

I took some time this afternoon to sit in the sunshine and read Headspace by Andy Puddicombe. Just before I planned to pack up for the day I read the section entitled ‘Walking Meditation’ and so put into play the exercise he set out within. Here is the online version of the exercise in case of interest. In essence, as you begin to walk, simply notice how the body feels. Begin observing what you see going on around you then turn your attention to sounds and smells. Gently shift your attention to the sensation of movement in the body and create awareness around each of your senses.

“As I walked the three minute journey across the field and back to my house I paid attention to the senses and their interaction with the world around me.

My rucksack on my back, comfortable for once without my drink bottle digging into the base of my spine as usually happens when I pack it in a rush. 

My arms swinging loosely by my side, my right arm much more so than my left which was obstructed by the blanket I had tucked under my left backpack strap.

Mindful of my feet as my little toes tried their best to wriggle out from the side of my cheap £4 Primark sandals, something I would usually have irritated me but in this instance made me smile. 

As I crossed the halfway point of the field, the texture of the grass changed. Where it had been cut the loose dried grass gathered between the soles of my feet and my sandals and I shook them lightly as I walked. 

I noticed I sped up as I passed a group of people being loud and trying to leapfrog each other, I’m not sure why the hurry was necessary. 

As I left the field and onto the tarmac, the sounds changed as did the softness of my step. I was under the cover of trees and the temperature plummeted dramatically as I was out at the sunlight. Knowing I was only a few moments away from my back door I didn’t put my zip top up on but appreciated the change in temperature and the goosebumps on my skin.

At this point I smiled to myself, I began thinking that maybe i’d write this up as a blog post when I arrived home and my thoughts changed tense, as if recounting my journey that had not yet been. Catching my mind wandering, I pulled it back, and for a few final moments appreciated the backs of the houses that I knew so well from the front yet rarely saw in reverse." 

Mindfulness of the journey, one which can be cultivated by us all at any opportunity.

When will you next take a walk into mindfulness?

 

Small side note: this photo wasn't of my actual journey today- my phone had died by that point and so this was one taken on a walk a few days ago- just so you know ;-)


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